19-year old Clark Atlanta University student, Kia Thomas sheds a tear as she spoke to the media at Cleopas R. Johnson Park Friday morning, August 23, 2019 about the shooting on campus where a bullet grazed her. Hours before the start of a new school year, four students were injured in a shooting at a block party Tuesday night outside the Atlanta University Center library. Two Spelman College students and two Clark Atlanta University students, all of whom are women, were taken to a hospital with injuries ranging from graze wounds to gunshot wounds, according to Atlanta police. They were hit around 10:30 p.m., when someone opened fire into a crowd of about 200 people in front of the Robert W. Woodruff Library on James P. Brawley Drive. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

How fun flashed into fear: AUC shooting victim recalls night of terror

Atlanta University Center schools increasing security following recent shooting outside library

Kia Thomas was with friends at a college block party this week when she heard a loud pop.

She suppressed a rising sense of dread, until she heard a second one. Then, there was no denying it was time to flee.

VIDEO: PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THIS ISSUE

Several students shot during block party near Clark Atlanta University

Thomas, 19, suffered a minor flesh wound, a graze to her left abdomen. It could easily have been fatal, if the shooter’s hand had tilted ever so slightly. Three other college women — Erin Ennis, 18, of Powder Springs; Maia Williams-McLaren, 18, of Boston; Elyse Spencer, 18, of Rochester, New York — also were injured in the shooting outside the Atlanta University Center library Tuesday night. All are expected to recover.

“When you have a weapon, you have a lot of power,” Thomas said Friday morning at a quiet park near campus. The Clark Atlanta University junior had called a low-key press conference before class, warning she only had time for a few questions. She wore a pink T-shirt that said “Gr8ful.”

Her parents stood nearby, with her dad urging reporters to avoid political questions. She did answer one about gun owners, though, saying they need to be “smart” about pulling the trigger, “because innocent people get hurt.”

After the TV cameras withdrew, she admitted to being shy, but said she felt a need to speak out. Her father, Kevin Thomas, said she’d always been a leader, and speculated that she’d called the press conference as therapy.

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Police have identified a possible suspect in the shooting, but have made no arrests. Atlanta University Center leaders have increased security at the schools and the library, and are talking with students about safety and security issues. Administrators at both schools have released several statements since the shootings, but have not granted interviews.

Aug 23, 2019 : 19-year old Clark Atlanta University student, Kia Thomas (right) gets a hug from her mother Michelle Thomas (left) after she spoke to the media at Cleopas R. Johnson Park Friday morning, August 23, 2019 about the shooting on campus where a bullet grazed her. Hours before the start of a new school year, four students were injured in a shooting at a block party Tuesday night outside the Atlanta University Center library. Two Spelman College students and two Clark Atlanta University students, all of whom are women, were taken to a hospital with injuries ranging from graze wounds to gunshot wounds, according to Atlanta police. They were hit around 10:30 p.m., when someone opened fire into a crowd of about 200 people in front of the Robert W. Woodruff Library on James P. Brawley Drive. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Before Thomas’ 9 a.m. news conference began she was clearly nervous. After the bells in the church behind her rang, signaling it was time, she opened with a wavering voice, describing her life before she earned the label “shooting victim.”

A mass communications major and Spanish minor, and a standout volleyball player, Thomas said she went to the gathering outside the library to socialize. People were singing when the gunfire erupted.

She paused and apologized, pursing her lips and exhaling. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“We cannot let one unfortunate event tarnish our college experience,” Thomas said. “We have to make the choice not to live in fear.”

When asked if the experience would change her behavior, Thomas said she would focus on whatever her coaches and professors require. Right now, she said, she wants to return to “normalcy.”

So will Thomas attend the block party if it is held again next year?

“Maybe,” she said.

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